Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lateral thinking puzzles and cultural awareness/norms

A friend gave us this lateral thinking puzzle on Boxing Day.  I'd heard it before but it took me half an hour to remember the solution.  The next day we asked my boyfriend's mum and partner it, and we asked another friend.  Some people got it within 20 seconds, others couldn't get it.   The puzzle is this:

A man lives on the 20th floor of an apartment building. Every morning he goes to work, comes back in a limousine, and gets in the lift to his apartment.  Some days he gets off at the 12th floor and walks the remaining 8 flights.  Other times he gets off at the 20th floor and goes straight into his apartment.  Why does he sometimes get out at the 12th floor?

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He is a dwarf (or little person - a quick google search says little people may be the correct term, but I feel awfully patronising saying that, however I realise that's my issue and if anyone who this affects is reading this I'm sorry if I'm causing offence) so he is too short to reach the button for the 20th floor.  He can reach as far as the button for the 12th floor though, and if other people are in the lift they press the button for the 20th floor for him.

Before I start waffling on about cultural norms, the pedant in me would like to ask whether lift buttons are always in one long vertical line, or if they are in sets of three or four vertical rows?  Because, this whole lateral thinking puzzle only works if the lift buttons are in one or two long vertical rows.

Right, cultural stuff.  For people who didn't get the puzzle straight away they went through tons and tons of ideas about why the man would get off t the 12th floor, all based around things they'd do.  E.g.  He had a girlfriend or lover on the 12th floor. There is a restaurant there  He liked the exercise.  There is a launderette on the 12th floor.  The lift was broken.  The limousine had a ramp to the 12th floor (that was my idea, no, I don't know why I said that either).  People who didn't get it were very surprised when they heard the answer.  I knew that the numbers of the floors were key, but I thought it was more of a numerical answer, rather than a physical capability answer.

Which led me onto thinking, that if we were all more aware of different abilities and disabilities would we get the puzzle earlier?  The answers that people gave were within their life experience, based on what they'd do, they was a certain amount of putting yourself into someone else's shoes, but not into something too different.  When I was trying to solve it I was thinking of cold hard data.  Logic.  I guess that's me not understanding the puzzle - lateral thinking isn't the same as logic.  The bloke who got it immediately is also quite short - about 5 ft 3, perhaps that helped him think outside the box?

Then I think what is the box? It's just the cultural norms that we operate with.  The way in which we think of certain body types as the default.  Men for instance.  Able bodied people.  White people.  I guess I'm saying that this puzzle really illustrated that for me.  How much does this type of thinking impact on all the other decisions and viewpoints we hold in our life?

I googled the puzzle and found this page which also has these puzzles:

2. Acting on an anonymous phone call, the police raid a house to arrest a suspected murderer. They don't know what he looks like but they know his name is John and that he is inside the house. The police bust in on a carpenter, a lorry driver, a mechanic and a fireman all playing poker. Without hesitation or communication of any kind, they immediately arrest the fireman. How do they know they've got their man?

Answer - the carpenter, lorry driver and mechanic are all women.
(my question - were they all there dressed in their workclothes with their work equipment on show as well?)

6. A man and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed and the child is taken to hospital gravely injured. When he gets there, the surgeon says, 'I can't operate on this boy - for he is my son!!!' How can this possibly be?

Answer - the surgeon is the boy's mother.

I'm ashamed to say that I didn't get either of these before looking at the answers (I only gave myself about 5 seconds but let's be honest here).  That sexist programming is still in full force.

This post is yet another example of me having half formed thoughts and wanting to get them out on the page for no other reason than to clear my head!

2 comments:

Rae Knowler said...

I'd heard that puzzle before, but in the version I knew the man took the lift all the way up on days when it was raining, because he could reach the button for the 20th floor with his umbrella. I also knew the one about the surgeon. In the one with the firefighter, I guessed that he was wearing his uniform with a name badge on it.

You raise a very good point here about culture, especially extending 'culture' to include awareness of disabilities, gender etc.

SallyP said...

This is why I hate puzzles!